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Caught in an elevator with the CEO? Make sure you nail it.

Networking and executive interactions

The CU Denver Business School Alumni Network (BSAN) hosted the third session in its four-part Career Edge Webinar Series aimed at sharing expert advice and resources for Denver job-seekers.

Held on March 29, the information-packed webinar was presented by Stephanie Sindt, career advisor at the Business Career Connections (BCC),  lecturer at the CU Denver Business School, and career counselor and executive coach at Vibrant Careers and moderated by Jordan Alvarez (BSBA ’14), program center manager with Ruffalo Noel Levitz and vice chair of engagement with BSAN.

Networking and interacting with high-level executives can no doubt be intimidating, and once you’ve been launched into the professional landscape, it can feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing and simply expects you to as well. Our experts tackled every facet around this topic and reassured listeners that taking the time to learn and practice these skills will pay off exponentially.

For people who get jobs, 70-80 percent have some networking contact within the company. It really is who you know. Your network can help get you there.

“For people who get jobs, 70-80 percent have some networking contact within the company. It really is who you know. Your network can help get you there.”

Networking prep

Get your resume ready. Always make sure it is up to date – you don’t want any hesitation if someone asks. This goes for LinkedIn, too. Make sure you’re always adding in current accomplishments:

  • Completed projects
  • Process improvements
  • Promotions
  • Collaboration with other departments or executives on initiatives

Update your personal brand. Are you presenting yourself for the role you want to have? Make sure you dress the part or others will have difficulty even picturing you there.

Review your current elevator pitch. This 15-30 second introduction that sums up your professional experience is your most powerful career tool. Does it reflect the career you want to have or are you branding yourself only for your current position? Update or change it accordingly and practice it more than you think you should.

Never stop networking

Most people know to network when looking to change jobs or industries, but most don’t find the value when they’re happy in their job. Networking and expanding your contacts without as much pressure lays the groundwork for the future when you’ve built a large network of connections.

Where to network

  • Conferences and educational events – These are great opportunities to meet unexpected people who share interests.
  • Alumni events – Connect with your alma mater. The CU Denver Business School hosts dozens of events every semester.
  • At work – Grab coffee with a colleague in a different department. It’s important to develop and maintain a pack of professional advocates.
  • With friends and family – This is the audience that loves you the most! Get to know them in a more professional capacity. It can be surprising who they can connect you with.
  • Networking events – Networking-specific events are listed lastly for good reason. These types of events can be useful, but often, higher quality connections are made when there’s a bit more commonality, like at an educational or workplace event.

Networking best practices

  1. Stay open – The most important thing is to have an open mind. Networking success often comes from unlikely contacts.
  2. Quality over quantity – A few high-quality contacts are better than a big stack of business cards. Get to know a few people well.
  3. Be memorable, in the right ways – Don’t dominate the conversation or the time. Also, we’re naturally set up to remember stories. Give real-life examples rather than a general overview of your experience. Go deeply into one project with plenty of details.
  4. Branch out – Don’t only talk to the people you already know. Remember, you’re here to make new connections too.
  5. Be helpful – Courteous professionals help others get connected. Think about who you could introduce. This is the kind of behavior that sets you apart as a real professional.
  6. Follow up quickly – This is the most critical part of the process. People may not remember you six months from now, so follow up via email or LinkedIn before your connection window closes, ideally within 48 business hours. Put a reminder in your phone to follow up after any networking event, conference, or meeting.

Networking without follow up is simply a nice conversation that you had with one person one time. Follow up is what makes it a connection that you can leverage in the future.

“Networking without follow up is simply a nice conversation that you had with one person one time. Follow up is what makes it a connection that you can leverage in the future.”

Networking tips for introverts

  • If possible, review who will be attending prior to the event. That way you will feel a lot more comfortable and prepared in the moment.
  • Focus on meeting a few people and making meaningful connections. Ask people a lot of questions about themselves. People love talking about themselves, and it takes the pressure off of you.
  • Prepare small talk questions. Think weather, traffic, or other local topics. Some other good examples: How are you connected to this event? What has your experience been like with your organization thus far? These are better options than asking if they like their job or what they do.
  • Practice introducing yourself as well as politely excusing yourself from a conversation when needed so you’re not flustered when the time comes.

Networking tips for extroverts

  • Focus on who’s in front of you. Make a conscious effort to not be distracted.
  • Help our introvert friends. Bring them into the conversation and keep them involved.
  • Listen with your mouth closed. This trick helps us focus on listening rather than thinking of what we’re going to say next.

Interacting with high-level executives

Executive interactions offer both great intimidation and opportunity. An executive is going to have an opinion about you whether you engage them or not, so it’s important to take charge of how you represent yourself.

“An executive is going to have an opinion about you whether you engage them or not, so it’s important to take charge of how you represent yourself.”

Be prepared. You could run into a highly influential executive any time at work, so be ready to answer questions like:

  • What do you do here?
  • How is it going so far?
  • What do you think of the company?
  • Where were you before this job?
  • What is the most important thing you’re going to work on here?

Executives make strategic decisions about the company and one of their expectations is that you’re able to think strategically as well.

“Executives make strategic decisions about the company and one of their expectations is that you’re able to think strategically as well.”

Harness the power of summarization. There is an art in being able to briefly talk about your role with the company (a type of elevator pitch) and your recent projects with potential details to back up statements.

Remember, all executives are short on time. Stay informed on industry trends, competition, world and US news. Executives make it their jobs to know these things so don’t miss a sliver of an opportunity to highlight your knowledge and commitment.

Making your best impression in meetings

Do your homework. Know the latest company news (including sensitive topics). Know who’s going to be in the room when you present and review LinkedIn profiles. Knowing someone’s background will help you prepare for the right types of questions.

Get to the point. Begin with the ‘end in mind.’ Executives often go into meetings wondering, “Why am I here? Why do I care? What are we going to address?” It’s smart to outline the top three takeaways right away.

Change perspective. Consider the types of questions that may be asked. Step back and try to gain some perspective by asking yourself what your sales or engineering or marketing departments care about.

Dress up. It may seem minor, but attire is important. Wear traditional colors (blue, black, grey, white). Look the part so people can focus on what you’re saying.

The 45-minute webinar covered even more valuable in-depth advice. If you missed it, you can view the entire webinar online anytime. The BCC offers many online resources as well as personalized coaching for job-seeking Business School alums.

More advice and resources

The four-part Career Edge Webinar Series, hosted by the Business School and CU Denver Alumni, offered valuable insight on local industry trends and professional development and was presented by our alumni and local business experts. Read up on any past sessions:

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